Hitman’s new mode transforms it into one of the best roguelikes ever

Hitman's new mode transforms it into one of the best roguelikes ever

The modern Hitman trilogy, or rather, hitman world of assassinationas it is now known — has always flirted with the roguelike genre. As Agent 47 from the blank slate, you plunge into mech missions in remote locations, exploiting targets’ routines and generally wreaking havoc in the most creative ways possible. In a race, you poison a target, follow it to the bathroom, and drown it in the toilet mid-vomit. In the next one, having unlocked a new infiltration point and the corresponding disguise, you trade a golf ball for its exploding twin, watching in glee from the outfield as your target swings a nine-iron to his unexpected death.

For over 22 years, developer IO Interactive has honed its talent for drawing joy from repetition. With its newly released mode, one that fully earns its roguelike moniker, it has almost reached perfection.

As the free DLC progresses, Freelancer mode is less “additional content” and more “radical reimagining”. While the basic trilogy encourages repeating the same mission over and over again, in order to better execute the more inventive and hilarious kills, Freelancer prohibits replays. You plan a mission with the limited information you have, improvise in the field, and move on to the next location.

This new gameplay loop revolves around taking down four Syndicates in increasingly long series of missions. The first Syndicate requires completing two missions before luring the Syndicate Leader. At that point, you drop to the last location, identify the leader by patiently watching the “indicators”, and take them out. To complete a run or “campaign”, you must kill all four Syndicate Leaders without dying. In total, you are viewing 18 locations. (If it sounds complicated, don’t worry: IO made a short tutorial video earlier, which you can watch here.)

The information screen, complete with optional objectives and locations, for a syndicate in Hitman World of Assassination's Freelancer mode

Image: Interactive IO

Of course, being a roguelike, you will probably die. a lot. When you die, you start a new campaign from the beginning, shuffling the objectives, locations, and items, along with a multitude of modifiers and random events. You even lose any lockpicks, sedatives, or explosives you’ve picked up in your previous run. The only constant? Your safe house.

Like the obsession with the video game”core worlds” only continues to grow, IO has created a fortress of solitude to rival the best. Agent 47’s bunker under a house is stylish, utilitarian and, for the world’s top assassin, surprisingly cozy. I remember the house in ex machina. By working your way up through the Freelancer Mode Mastery Ranks, you can unlock new rooms, earn more decorations, and fill the gaps in those walls with weapons every self-respecting spy seems to have. The Vault, unlike your tools, quests, or objectives, doesn’t reset between runs, and upgrading it is almost as satisfying as giving body to the house of Zagreus in hell. But while that corner of the underworld is packed with friends and family, in HitmanIn Freelancer mode, Agent 47 is lonelier than usual.

A sense of isolation is paramount in Freelancer, not just in tone, but also in function. While Agent 47 has had the backing of the International Contracts Agency on the vast majority of the trilogy’s missions, the reluctant assassin has become…well…independent. Hence the need to build the safe house and arsenal from scratch, but also the need to leak the information on his behalf. Series mainstay Diana Burnwood is still here (and still voiced by the phenomenal Jane Perry, of course) to offer a guiding hand, praise successful missions and lament her missteps. But as far as choosing which four Syndicates to pursue in any given race, that’s up to you.

Agent 47 contemplates killing with a sniper rifle in a crowded Berlin bathroom in Hitman World of Assassination's Freelancer Mode

Image: Interactive IO

Herein lies the brilliant foothold of Freelancer mode. The eight random syndicates (represented as ordered files) have optional random objectives to suit certain playstyles. Complete these optional objectives and you’ll earn a currency called “merces”, which you can spend on costumed vendors scattered throughout each mission.

These optional objectives are both a blessing and a way that IO pushes you out of your comfort zone. During my third campaign, I opted to hunt down a human trafficker, whose optional objectives mostly revolved around pure stealth. With this being my preferred playstyle in the base trilogy, I had little trouble taking out low-level syndicate members with my bare hands, hiding them in freezers and disappearing without a trace. By the time I arrived on the Isle of Sgàil to wipe out the leader, I had crafted a useful assortment of lock picks, wrenches, and non-lethal poisons, and completed the job without much difficulty.

I also, by chance, added some weapons to my weapons wall and decided to shake things up with my second syndicate: a group of arms dealers. The optional objectives for these missions required making noise, as they say: kill three guards with a shotgun, take out a target with a sniper rifle, etc. While these didn’t fit my usual methods, this syndicate would take me to some of my favorite places (Whittleton Creek, New York, Berlin, and the Maldives).

Agent 47 crouches behind a low wall in Chongqing in Hitman World of Assassination's Freelancer mode.

Image: Interactive IO

How did it go? Not cool, Bob! Because I shot the guns at the first two places, I scared the superiors at the later places. These missions got “On Alert” status, which makes it much harder to stay undetected, regardless of my disguise. I spawned in the New York parking lot, botched a choke attempt, and fell to the ground in a lead storm.

There are a variety of other modifiers and random events that can appear in each campaign, but frankly I don’t want to spoil them here. Half the fun of Freelancer mode is getting through one or even two syndicates, only to open your third file and realize how much your greed for mercedes has screwed you up. But you move on to the next place anyway, because improv is half the fun, and half the comedy, of this excellent series.

HitmanFreelancer mode is something of a rarity: a heady mix of challenge and accessibility. Play with the swagger of veteran players, but also guide newcomers with thematic objectives and a more explicit overall structure. It may not allow for the micro-repetition that makes the base trilogy work. But he maintains a fast momentum from the start of each race to its bitterly comic end. After so many hours dedicated to this trilogy, combing each of its locations in search of something, anything I got lost, I didn’t think it was possible for IO to surprise me more, but here we are.

hitman world of assassinationautonomous mode was released on January 26 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The DLC was revised on Xbox. Vox Media has affiliate associations. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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